Night Shade Books, 2012, 400 pages
Nobody leaves Osiris. Osiris is a lost city. She has lost the world and world has lost her...
Rising high above the frigid waters, the ocean city of Osiris has been cut off from the land since the Great Storm fifty years ago. Most believe that Osiris is the last city on Earth, while others cling to the idea that life still survives somewhere beyond the merciless seas. But for all its inhabitants, Citizens and refugees alike, Osiris is the entire world--and it is a world divided.
Adelaide is the black-sheep granddaughter of the city's Architect. A jaded socialite and family miscreant, she wants little to do with her powerful relatives--until her troubled twin brother disappears mysteriously. Convinced that he is still alive, she will stop at nothing to find him, even if it means uncovering long-buried secrets.
Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee quarantined with thousands of others in the city's impoverished western sector, sees his own people dying of cold and starvation while the elite of Osiris ignore their plight. Determined to change things, he hopes to use Adelaide to bring about much-needed reforms--but who is using who?
As another brutal winter brings Osiris closer to riot and revolution, two very different people, each with their own agendas, will attempt to bridge the gap dividing the city, only to find a future far more complicated than either of them ever imagined.
Osiris is the beginning of an ambitious new science fiction trilogy exploring a near-future world radically transformed by rising seas and melting poles.
Osiris has a beautiful cover and pretty writing and overwrought angsty protagonists buried in lush prose and lackadaisical plotting. I wanted to like it, but I almost gave up after the first few chapters.
Our first protagonist is Adelaide Rechnov, a spoiled socialite who pretends to have severed relations with her family (but not with their money) because her twin brother Axel has gone missing, believed dead, and she insists he's still alive.
With their upright carriage and pinched expressions, they were easy to spot. Some of them wore the formal session surcoat over their suits, the sweeping garments giving them the appearance of doleful bats doused in cherry juice. Linus and Dmitri had already established themselves within the illustrious hallmark of the Council Chambers. Linus’s personal mission was to convert his sister. He liked to dangle words like future and ramifications under Adelaide’s nose, fish on a hook she never bit. As a Rechnov, even a renounced fourth gen one, Adelaide retained the respect, prominence, and wealth afforded all of Osiris’s founders: this was her inheritance.
Osiris was built by Adelaide's grandfather - the seas rose and wiped out the rest of civilization (okay, fine, I'll give any book at least one "gimme"), and the inhabitants of Osiris are the last refuge of mankind. They've isolated themselves, forbidden anyone to leave, and insist there have been no hints of survivors anywhere else on the planet - no radio signals, no aircraft, no vessels, nothing.
In this way, while Osiris is a somewhat novel concept on the surface (a sort of futuristic Atlantis that has risen while the rest of the world sank), it's really more like those old generation ship stories, where the survivors at some point discover that the ship's mission is a lie. This is hinted at in the novel, but naturally it's left unresolved in the end since this is the first book in a trilogy.
Adelaide's chapters alternate with Vikram's. Vikram is a westerner - the western sector was fenced off by the initial arrivals to Osiris, and now has been allowed to stagnate and starve, turned into a sort of giant wharfside slum afflicted with poverty and crime and food riots, District 9 to Osiris's Capital.
Naturally, wealthy creamy-skinned redhead Adelaide and brooding would-be reformer Vikram find their paths intersect... in bed.
"You’re not meant to be in here," she said.
"You didn’t leave me much choice."
She glowered at him. He met her scowl with a smile. She opened her mouth to tell him not to, but he pre-empted her.
"You fell asleep on me." Now he sounded smug.
"You fell asleep," Vikram repeated. "You were very tired. And exceptionally drunk." And when her lips parted again he added, "I’ve got no reason to lie."
"I never sleep," she said.
"Alright. You passed out. Drunk, a dead weight, soon as we lay down and your head hit the pillow."
It was possible. It explained, at least, the lack of memory. Adelaide felt the cold sting of humiliation.
Vikram yawned again, and flopped back onto the pillows. His face was unlike any man she had ever known. There were lines in that face that would never be erased, lines made by the early tiredness of poverty. But they had faded beneath the light of a new expression.
E.J. Swift tries to hide her gender JK-style, but the emotional fluttering of both the male and female lead, the lengthy internal monologues, the precious details of eyelashes and dress and furnishings, and the not-quite-romance between Adelaide and Vikram would have given her away without the About the Author.
Notwithstanding the angstfest that at times eclipses what is supposed to be a mystery leading to a revolution, the writing brings Osiris to life, with rich imagery of a sea-born city in which the presence of the ocean and its fearful dependence on it is always present.
Unfortunately, the plot itself is predictable - the "mystery" is all but given away in the prologue - and the action is weighed down by excessive prose-smithing and overdone aquatic allusions. In Osiris they read "Reefmail" on "Neptunes" and watch things on the "o'vis" and chat via "o'voys." They eat kelp squares and fish, and drink fermented seaweed.
Osiris's flaws can be attributed to it being a debut novel, and E.J. Swift may develop into an author of note, but this first book barely held my interest.
Verdict: Well-written but melodramatic characterization more suitable for a romance novel than a dystopian drama. Nice worldbuilding and evocative writing, but too much of the latter and too little actual plot. 5/10.
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